Earlier this week, Alysha García reported in person for work at Alamo Heights High School. It wasn’t her choice.
García is the sole English-as-a-second-language teacher at the high school. A few weeks ago, she applied to be one of the district educators overseeing virtual learning. She wanted to teach class from home, alongside her eight-year-old daughter, as she did this spring.
“I’m a single mom, and I don’t have any family support so it’s not like ‘Let me just call my mom or let me just call my sister,” García said. “It’s literally just me and her. I did put that on my application.”
The district didn’t select García for the virtual instruction program. In an email, she learned AHISD would need her to report for work in person once students returned to campus.
As the first day of school approaches, districts are working to balance their staffing models appropriately, devoting enough staff to virtual and in-person learning. Sixty-four percent of Alamo Heights ISD parents said they wanted their children to receive in-person instruction when it was available, pushing the district to bring teachers back to their classrooms.
That put the single mother in a bind. García didn’t want her daughter to attend school in person; she worried it would only add unnecessary risk to their delicate family balance. But if she was made to report to her campus, the only way she could keep her daughter away from her elementary school and her classmates was to take advantage of AHISD’s child care offerings.
Like other school systems that are mandating a return to the physical classroom, AHISD is offering child care to its employees, although it wasn’t immediately clear to García what that would look like.
As a result, García is one of many teachers bristling at a return to campus because of implications on her family and the control she feels she’ll lose over child care decisions.
Districts are allowing educators with medical issues for themselves or someone they live with to get a doctor’s note to continue their work from home. Diagnosed medical conditions are not always the issue with returning; it might be a complicated family situation or fears over a loved one’s exposure to greater health risks.
Northside ISD, San Antonio’s largest school district, mandated instructors return to school buildings for both remote and face-to-face instruction.
“The best environment from which to teach, whether in-person or virtual, is in the classroom where folks have access to consistent broadband internet, the supplies and equipment they need, and frankly just a more professional setting from [which] to teach compared to a living room,” Superintendent Brian Woods said in July.
To make sure teachers can show up in person and not worry about leaving a child at home unsupervised, the district is using the The Learning Tree for child care.
But for Northside ISD teacher Melina Espiritu-Azocar’s family, that solution doesn’t work. One of her children requires special education services and Espiritu-Azocar was already considering homeschooling because remote learning wasn’t working well and in-person instruction didn’t feel safe.
“For teachers that are being mandated back into the building, if we have kiddos at home we can certainly sit with them and work with them, or at least ensure they’re doing their work and be able to work from home,” she said. “We did it from March through June. But if we’re mandated back into the building … I don’t know what we’re going to do about child care.”
San Antonio ISD is orchestrating a slower, phased-in return with some teachers in school buildings this week and others making their way back in September.
Unless anything changes, David Garza will be one of the teachers made to return to his campus in a few weeks. He teaches early childhood education at De Zavala Elementary where his son Dylan will attend the sixth grade next school year.
Garza co-parents, switching off weeks with Dylan. With SAISD mandating a return to the classroom, Garza argues he effectively won’t have a say in whether to keep his son at home.
“If I’m supposed to return to campus, what am I going to do with my child?” he said. “I want to have the option of keeping him away from the congregate setting of other kids. I realize a lot of other people are in this kind of situation, but it’s just difficult.”
The only option Garza can think of to keep Dylan off campus is to leave his son with his mom, Dylan’s grandmother. When Dylan became sick during the school day last year, Garza resorted to the same option. He called his mom to pick Dylan up, and the two spent the day together. Ultimately, Dylan passed what he was sick with onto his grandmother.
“This is something that happened with the flu, and we’re in the middle of this pandemic now,” he said. “I don’t want to put [my mom] in that position. … I feel for everybody because I mean as parents, no matter the industry you’re in, no matter what you’re working on, we’re all dealing with this. It’s difficult.”
In Alamo Heights ISD, García is feeling the weight of these decisions. When she reported for work earlier this week, she left her daughter under the supervision of a friend with hopes that her situation would change soon and that she’d find a way to work from home.
She considered a leave of absence until she felt safer bringing her daughter to campus but wouldn’t have other income to support her family. She considered resigning and began applying for jobs outside the teaching profession that she could do at home.
“My only options are stay as it is now or leave,” she said.